one chapter to go

Blue Crystal
(Current) Word count: 99,050.

Table of contents:

  1. Chapter One: Vastii in Black
  2. Chapter Two: The Celestite Baron
  3. Chapter Three: Paid in Sand
  4. Chapter Four: A Walk in the Dark
  5. Chapter Five: Bloody Hands
  6. Chapter Six: Mercenaries and Fire
  7. Chapter Seven: Terms of Endearment
  8. Chapter Eight: New Years Day
  9. Chapter Nine: Nature
  10. Chapter Ten: Duty
  11. Chapter Eleven: Vastii in Red
  12. Chapter Twelve: Three Faces in Filigree
  13. Chapter Thirteen: Catch a Star

‘Three Faces in Filigree’ is written. After Catch a Star, this draft will be finished, and I can start editing.

There are days you think, “What am I doing, how can I hope to tie everything up, how can I make the ending unpredictable yet still make sense?”. And then there are days when you read over the previous chapter titles, remember what happened in each, and suddenly feel so satisfied.

happy singles awareness day!

Alright, I’m a day early. It’s probably tomorrow off in Russia, though, so the title stays.

This is just a short update on the novel progress. I’m now sitting at 92,645 words. I’ve just finished chapter eleven last night. I’ve got two more chapters before the book is done, so I’m predicting that this draft will hit about 105k. 1,000 words a day, and I should be done before March.

Also, I’m very pleased with my reveal. I’d been worried about handling it right. Now for the grand finale!

Oh, and happy singles awareness day. 🙂

third draft theories

First, it’s probably safe to say that I’m feeling better. Thanks for the get-well comments, guys!

I’ve been going through my plot recently, as part of my scheduled plot-scrub (which is turning out to in fact be a beastly, terrible creature that seems determined to pin me down and chop me up– fie to whoever decided to hand that thing a chainsaw). After some study, I’m adding in another plotline, because I noticed that one of my protagonists seems to be lounging around when other characters aren’t looking. Add in another plotline, carefully consider the implications and how this will change the story… typical revision stuff.

But it also had me thinking about the structure of chapters, and how individual pieces (because chapters are pretty good examples of broken-up chunks of story) contribute to the overarching plot. While I’ve been re-planning chapters, inserting new ones, thrashing others, I’ve also been wondering what the best way to structure each chapter might be.

Simplistic as the idea is, what is a chapter, and what should it accomplish?

I don’t have the answer for that, of course. I’m not sure that there is one. But I do have some ideas, theories, some possibly even worth discussing.

A chapter should be enticing. The audience should want more. This is a cardinal rule of writing: make things that other people want to read. This point is entirely subjective; possibly the reasons we group books by genre. Fantasy, science fiction, and westerns are premises and settings, if you think about it. Romance, action, drama, suspense, and horror are plot and theme elements. This is why you can have a fantasy-action story, a scifi romance, a western horror, and other fun combinations (keeping in mind that setting seems to supersede tone in bookstores). While the genre lines don’t make complete sense in the matter of content, it’s really all reader expectation, desires to be filled. I don’t really like genre categories, but I think it’s important to realize what they really are: pre-defined tastes, not too unlike calling something sweet, salty, or chewy. Unfortunately, this ‘season to taste’ rule doesn’t help with the composition of a chapter.

As an aside, my personal solution to the problem of interest is: Think of book ending that would make you (the author) bounce up and down with manic glee. Go write. Try to get there.

What else should a chapter be? Why do we use chapters? Why not some other paragraph breaks, also used in fiction to end scenes, ect? Adult novels don’t seem to include a ‘table of contents’ anymore. Some chapters are titled, some are numbered. Some are neither. Some people write long chapters, others end them after only a few pages. Some use length to determine their chapters, others are fond of POV shifts and scene changes, while some use significant plot events.

I have a theory right now that when chapters are long and based on plot events, elements of short story form might be a very good way to construct them. You have your basic elements of plot: set up, rising tension, crisis, and resolution. While this works for a story, this could also be applied to the individual elements of the conflict in their own right, and if a chapter is being based around chunks of conflict, it might be a smart way to structure a chapter, daisy-chaining conflicts and resolutions with each other from chapter to chapter, introducing new problems after the minor climaxes.

Note: there is a difference between ‘resolution’ and ‘problems go away’. I once read a book where a chapter ended with a character learning a terrible secret, then getting pushed down several stories, maiming himself if he did manage to survive. Building tension, conflict, and resolution– just not a happy one.

That style, of course, would create something of a rhythmic motion to it, a lapping of waves on a beach, so to speak. It could be good, or it might not work. But it would almost certainly focus the chapter on at least one big problem, which immediately inserts tension into a story.

Any other thoughts on the use of a chapter? I’m particularly interested in thoughts on structure right now.

weekly goal (and a long moment of cringing)

Over the weekend I didn’t get much writing done. This is partly because I’d had a tough week and needed to take a break, and partly because after that really climactic scene I needed to step back and figure out where to go from there.

So I started plotting out the next few chapters, and I realized that I’m only five chapters from the end of the book. I knew that I was close, about 30 or 35,000 words away… but even so. That puts a new perspective on things. My new goal is to write a chapter every week. I should have this draft finished at the end of July.

And… … because I’m an idiot… I accidentally erased my last twenty-five comments on my blog. I was trying to erase one (I referred to my own article and I hate pinging myself) and woosh! … Out they went. Excuse me while I go smack myself on the head repeatedly, and know that I really don’t hate you all.

ramifications of plot and temper

Chapter Six: Bloody Hands

I’ve managed to dig my protagonist into a great deal of trouble. I might, might be able to pull him out again if I can keep the king from rigging his trial. Which would be out of character. King Kanichende leaves nothing to chance, and Rylan has just handed me a very good reason to kill him at at my 30% mark.

Here’s the problem.

Rylan has a temper. Announce that you’re going to hurt or soil his lady in any way, and if he believes what you’re saying he will almost certainly try to kill you. The response isn’t that out of place in his environment; it’s ruthless, brutal, and courtiers really are going out of their way to manipulate his mistress, or stop their rivals from doing the same.

Partway through the chapter, Rylan visited a mercenary leader who hated nobility and just completed a job for them. The mercenary found out that he served nobility. Rylan was let go, only because the last job worked against the secret police. The mercenaries now know the lady’s family crest and have threatened/promised to find her identity. On the way back, one of the king’s favorites provokes Rylan’s temper. There’s a fight, and the king’s lackey escapes. When Rylan gets back into his mistress’ apartments, he finds a common guard has broken into his lady’s bedroom, rummaging through her desk. The lackey tells the king that his hostage’s slave attacked him, and king, lackey, and troupe walk in on Rylan just after he’s killed the intruding guardsman. Who also served the king. Rylan is lead to a prison cell to await a trial.

Sometimes I feel as if my villains aren’t harsh enough, that my heroes are getting away with too much. How far can an important hostage get away with? How much is the king willing to bend the rules to get what he wants?

Does it ever feel as if the villains and their agendas are only present when it’s convenient, and how do you avoid that?

finishing chapter one

The second rewrite of my first chapter has just been completed. It’s much stronger, the setting is firmly in place, it’s terribly long (7,500 words), it sparks with tension, and it just may be the best thing that I’ve ever written. I am thrilled, exhausted, and slightly terrified, because I’ve printed out copies for my four test readers. Once they finish, it goes to my writing critique group. I am now ready to continue with the first rewrite, with has languished for the last few days while I’ve slogged on this piece. Expect my word count meter to start climbing again soon.

I will say this much. Wyrren Jadis is an amazing character. I’m terrified that I’m going to handle her badly. She’s frustrating to direct, stubborn, impossible to express. But when I can use her correctly, she outshines them all.

I love this book.

writing chapter one

I’ve been writing the second draft (third version) of that first chapter prematurely to give to the artist I’ve mentioned. It’s gotten me thinking of what a really good first chapter is meant to accomplish, what it should contain ideally. What I’ve come up with is a bit different than what I’ve seen other writers discuss on craft, and I thought that I’d share.

Everyone talks about ‘hooks’. … You know what? Forget the hook. Forget the clever first line. You’re not working on a magazine ad. Write material that’s gripping and worth reading, something that starts strong and dives in without waiting for permission from the reader. Let your skill be a ‘hook’.

I say this because so much stress is always put into those first few lines, and all it’s done for me is to feel like some sort of gimmick. The purpose of the hook is very valid! But going out of your way to write a good ‘hooking statement’ rather than working on the composition of the book and chapter itself seems too much like a facade of elegance, a layer of costume cosmetics, and I think emphasis on this is misleading. First learn to convey an idea.

For this project, setting was drastically important. ‘Blue Crystal’ is so much unlike any other fantasy story that I’ve ever read. I worked hard to keep the setting and idea original. It’s worked. But it also means that people just coming in won’t know what to expect, and for that, establishing the setting (place, people, customs) is vitally important. If it were just another generic fantasy I’d stick in a dwarf and set it in a bar. No description needed. Everyone and their assorted relatives could fill in the details while multitasking. Excuse me while I shiver.

The first chapter should also hint at all the other elements that will be used in the book, not only the mechanisms, but also the scenery and themes. The reader should know what kind of story this is, and establishing everything well in advance means that you have very clear boundaries on why the hero is very restricted in certain ways, that he can’t just ‘solve’ his problems with magic. Just find a realistic way to accomplish this– don’t become a contortionist writer for a few paragraphs to show things off. Fine a way to make them work.

I’m almost done with the chapter, and unlike much of my craft I’m actually very pleased with it so far. It’s starting to come into focus.